TV Review: A Discovery of Witches (S1) | Leaner, Effective, and Exciting

When the show first aired, I watched it intent on reviewing the season. Out of the eight episodes, I only wrote few thoughts on episode one and three, about how slick and polished the series looks, and how I still didn’t know what was going on by the third episode. The series got on my radar because of its leads, Teresa Palmer (I Am Number 4, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game, Watchmen) two actors that I greatly appreciate. The cast also includes other very familiar faces such as Edward Bleumel (Killing Eve, Brave New World), Louise Brealey (Sherlock), Owen Teale (Game of Thrones, Tolkien), Alex Kingston (Doctor Who, Arrow, ER), Valarie Pettiford (The Blacklist), Gregg Chillin (Da Vinci’s Demons), Malin Buska (Advokaten, Easy Money III), Aiysha Hart (Line of Duty), Trevor Eve (Strike Back), Greg McHugh (Bad Education), Daniel Ezra (All American), and Elarica Johnson (C.B. Strike).

Later on, I learned that the show is based on a trilogy of books, the first of which shares a name with the series: “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness. It is a book that passed me by. It was never on my radar before the TV series. So when I first experienced season one I hadn’t read the book, now I have. What is it about?

Premise: Diana Bishop, a historian and non-practicing witch, unknowingly accesses a coveted long-lost book, Ashmole 782. This draws the attention of all creatures in existence, who want it for themselves. She must solve its mysteries and understand why this book is so sought-after. She is offered help by the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, but he’s a vampire and witches should never trust vampires.

Review: After reading and reviewing All Souls #1, I have a deeper appreciation for the series. The show really is slick and polished, like I first thought. It doesn’t look cheap, there’s money put into it and it shows. The locations, costumes, cinematography, and visual effects are gorgeous, everything looks great. The esthetic is right for this story.

The story unfolds slowly, like a mystery, and it’s captivating. The first time around I thought the pace was a bit slow, now I appreciate it. The episodes set up this magical realism world of witches, demon, and vampire beautifully. Their history is laid out just as their present unfolds. For a book and thus a show with mythical/fantastical creatures, science and evolution is a big part of it. It helps ground the show and gives it substance. Like the story the supernatural, paranormal elements come in bit by bit. It creeps on the edges of the show before they are revealed.

“Magic is desire made real.”

Having read the book, I enjoyed – or more aptly rejoiced – at the changes made for the screen. The creatures all feeling the book reappearing rather than it being a rumor, is one of them. It makes more sense. The decline of the creatures felt more tangible, they showed the creature were getting weaker with a failed vampire siring, and the obvious difference of power levels among the witches.
Matthew Goode is a much better Matthew than the one described in the book. He looks and feels more dangerous – he made the growls work. Thanks to Palmer – and the writing – Diana is not as annoying or wimpy. She appears more untrained than willfully unwilling to use her power. Yes she has refused to be trained but after she realizes she has greater abilities than she suspected, she’s not as blind to them as she persist on being in the book. The way Matthew and Diana got to become closer is also more organic. Teresa Palmer and Goode‘s chemistry is amazing, they are very well cast. I love that Satu is not a dumb henchwoman, she’s not blindly following Knox and has her own motivations.

It did not take long for me to be convinced that the show is much better than the book. It’s leaner, effective, and exciting. All the little details that they changed served the story well, but it didn’t prevent the confusion I had watching the show the first time without having read the book. The show is also more exciting once you’ve read the book. As for the Twilight comparison, the only ressemblance to Catherine Hardwicke‘s Twilight in the show is the voice over at the very beginning and the some of the score.

A Discovery of Witches S1 is engaging with a believable fantasy element, great acting, and a great production value.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

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